The subjects of art

The tension that runs over and over through my thinking of art according to Alain Badiou is that of the construction of an allegorical structure of a subjectivity in particular works of art–a figure which would be adequate to our times (by going beyond out times)–and of the inter-workly construction on the level of the materials of a new intension (as François Nicolas would call it), an artistic truth-procedure (in Badiou’s language). The former is that of an allegorical presentation of subjectivity within a work, and the latter is the ‘actual’ subjective movement of an artistic truth itself across works.

My hunch is that it is not enough to simply instantiate in a particular work of art the historically ‘correct’ figure of subjectivity, nor is it enough to be part of a creative procedure of the thinking through of artistic materials (a truth procedure as the construction of a new onto-logical situation for art). To be an artist who is truly great and whose scope is truly great, one must do both: create in their individual works of art a figure of the subject necessary for the times, and to create as part of an on-going process genuinely new materials.

Seems simplistic, but perhaps that’s our lot. Nonetheless, it is important not to conflate this with any naive form/content divide: both of these ‘subjects’ are on the level of form.

Also, and this is crucial, it must be said that neither pole is avoidable, since avoidance itself is a kind of subjectivity. The attempt to compose a work without an allegory of subjectivity will produce works with some kind of default subjective allegory (probably one readily available in the ideological order); the attempt to avoid constructing a subjective procedure through works of art will produce something like the subjective form of reactionary denial.

Of course, this binary could still be problematised to an extent. In Five Lessons On Wagner Badiou speaks of Wagner’s operas creating different possibilities and visions for the closure of a work, and that this is part of the inter-workly procedure. Likewise, the allegorical dimension could be said to arise from the experimentation with material structuration itself. It is apparent in Badiou’s lecture ‘The subject of art‘ that the meaning of the word ‘subject’ is bound up with the inter-workly conception (as it is in his discussion of the Schoenberg event in LOW). That is, while Badiou calls upon artists to dialectically and constructively resist the subjective ‘figures’ of enjoyment and sacrifice, he essentially ends up saying: create new structures of perception, create new materials, be part of a truth-procedure. However, I think it would be safe to say that Badiou is also only interested in art that is allegorically affirmative within its individual works. In a way, Badiou seemingly wants individual works of art to instantiate, as allegories, the kind of inter-workly subjectivity (truth procedure) to which they belong.

For my part, I currently think about both in terms of an axiomatic stance: To create a allegories of the affirmative subject adequate to our times, and toas much as this is possible–be the affirmative subject by single-mindedly following a line of thought in musical creation (of course I understand that Badiou’s subject is not an individual). Interestingly enough, for me the former determines the latter. Perhaps that’s my current answer to the problem: To construct the materials capable of creating allegorical structures of affirmation that are of the present, and in order to create the latter we need the former.

Philosophically, that seems overly simplistic and in need of refining. More importantly, however, is whether this kind of thinking can create truly great new music.


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